What can you do with a GoPro HERO3+ with firmware 2 installed and a Ninja Blade?

The HERO3+ Black Edition has new firmware since March 2014. Firmware v2 added new controls to GoPro’s flagship camera for setting colour, ISO limit, sharpness and exposure. Meanwhile, Atomos’ Ninja Blade added vectorscope and histogram overlays so you can evaluate the exposure settings of your camera. Atomos’ Blade series also supports colour calibration to ensure accurate colour. Use the two together and you get an ultra-cheap ultra-nice movie recording package.

The HERO3+ is a fine camera that is capable of recording quite high video quality on its own. Certainly if you use the GoPro Studio software to convert to Cineform, you will have a fine video recording experience. The new controls add to the pleasure and accuracy of what you’re shooting. The colour setting is limited to either flat Protune recording, or in-camera improvements that relate especially to contrast and saturation. I left that one to flat as I like to tamper with colour grading in post-production.

GoPro HERO3+ action camera

ISO Limit lets you change the upper ISO limit. Not a big deal, right? Leave it as be? Not necessarily so. I turned down ISO Limit from its maximum value to a maximum of 400 ISO and guess what: in shaded areas — but not as dark as twilight — there’s a lot less noise! And I do mean a lot less of it. Try it yourself, it’s worth going through the menus.

Sharpness can be set to anything from the way we were to sharp. I left it at its default setting. I’ll sharpen in post, thank you.
The really juicy novelty is Exposure. You can open or close the iris from its default zero-setting with two f-stops. That is enough to make a huge difference in some shooting conditions, but there’s a minor problem: you can’t evaluate properly by lack of scopes.

Enter the Ninja Blade. Provided you’re not shooting with your HERO3+ in environments where water might damage your equipment, the Ninja Blade can make the difference between your exposure set to a correct value or one that is halfway or way off.

Monitoring preferences

You’ll need a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable to make this work. I used a cheap micro-HDMI converter cable that kept dislodging but if you’re not going to record to the Ninja Blade — which you can do as well — the cable only stays in until you’re satisfied with your exposure settings anyway.
– Connect the Ninja Blade to the HERO3+ and set the latter to a recording mode supported by the former (i.e. 1080p25/24 or something like 720p24/25)
– Set the OSD to off on the HERO3+
– Navigate to the scopes on the Ninja Blade and select one of the histograms
– Set the HERO3+ on the exposure value that you think is the right one and ignore what you see on the Ninja Blade while doing this
– Exit the settings menus of the HERO3+ and point the lens in the direction of the scene or object you want to shoot
– Watch the histogram(s) on the Ninja Blade move. If they stay within the highest and lowest values on the screen, you’re ready. If not, repeat the process with the Exposure setting — turning it higher when the histogram values do not reach the upper limit and lower when the histogram goes through the ceiling value on the Ninja Blade — until you reach the optimum level.

If you want to record to one of the ProRes 422 or DNxHD formats on the Ninja Blade’s internal disk, you can start recording immediately. You should ensure a well connected HDMI cable, which is a bit difficult with the micro-HDMI interface. Attaching a glue dot to the side of the HERO3+ and the HDMI connector may help in my experience.

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